Andrew Wessling is still learning last names.
Granted, it hasn’t been that long since the new head coach for the Ketchikan High School girls’ soccer program learned the first names of all 24 of his players, as preseason practices began on March 22 — not even a month ago.
But needless to say, progress is being made, when it comes to learning so many names so quickly.
And at the same time, progress has been made on the soccer field, as well.
“It’s been great,” Wessling said. “Obviously, with not playing for such a long time — with all the COVID stuff — everybody’s a little rusty, so you’re getting that rust off for a little bit. But the improvement from day one until now has been (great).”
That rust can build up after being away from the sport for a couple years. The Lady Kings haven’t played a soccer game since May 2019.
But that will change this weekend, as the Lady Kings will host Thunder Mountain High School on Friday and Saturday at Esther Shea Field.
Friday’s matchup will kick off at 5:30 p.m., as the varsity squads square off. The junior varsity game will follow, beginning at 7:15 p.m.
Saturday’s games are scheduled for the afternoon.
“I’m so excited, and the girls — they’re getting more and more excited the closer we get to it,” Wessling said. “They’re a little bit nervous, I’m sure. They haven’t played in pretty much two years. So it’s exciting for everybody, and I’m sure it’ll be the same type of thing (for everybody) — we’ll be knocking the rust off our boots when we’re playing. But that’s just all part of it.
“I’m jazzed about it, and I think the girls are pretty excited about it too,” he continued. “So it’ll be fun.”
Wessling, who started playing the sport at four years old, was a walk-on in college at Rockhurst University — a Division II school in Kansas City, Missouri. After graduating, he started coaching, and has been doing so for eight years.
He’s in his first year teaching industrial arts and shop at Schoenbar Middle School.
“I love coaching, and it’s something that’s always been a part of my life,” he said. “Why not (share) the little that I know, or think that I know? I’m always learning new stuff every day, too. So it’s been great.
“I like passing it on, and it’s a fun way to get to know students outside of school, and having that same interest with them is always fun.”
And that shared passion for soccer is evident between Wessling and his players, even in the short few weeks they’ve been together.
“They’re happy to be out here,” he said. “You can see that they’re jazzed to be playing a team sport again, and playing soccer again. I mean, you get to do something you love, you’re always going to have fun doing it. So it’s great to see. It’s been a blast.”
Fans in the stands
With Ketchikan currently at a Level 1 for the novel coronavirus, there is no limit to the number of spectators at Esther Shea Field this weekend. Tickets are not required for entry.
Varsity game first
The Lady Kings’ and Lady Falcons’ varsity squads will start the action at 5:30 p.m. Friday. The junior varsity games will follow at 7:15 p.m.
The flip-flop from the typical JV-varsity order is done to ensure those who play for both squads will be fresh for the varsity game.
“Myself, as well as the other coaches in our division — the Juneau coaches — are the same way,” Wessling said. “With everybody’s numbers being down a little bit, to make sure that we have the best competition for our varsity, we’ll play the varsity game first. So that way (everyone) who plays for both JV and varsity, they’re fresh for that varsity game.”
Learning from previous coaches
Wessling has quickly been learning the ropes as a high school coach in Southeast.
Former Lady Kings’ head coach Neil Kinunen has offered his support and advice, as well as other former head coaches.
“I’ve got the upmost respect for Neil, and he’s been a wonderful person to chat with and lean on, and ask questions too,” Wessling said. “... Neil’s been great, and all the old coaches have been very generous and offered support to me, and that’s been cool to see — just kind of how tight knit the soccer community is here. It’s so cool to see.”
Kings travel to Thunder Mountain
While the Lady Kings host the Lady Falcons this weekend, the Kings are traveling to Thunder Mountain to square off against the boys’ squad.
The Falcons host the Kings on Friday and Saturday in the capital city. Game times are slated for 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. both days.
This weekend will be a rematch of the 2019 third-place game, which was the last match for either team. Kayhi won that game 5-3 in penalty kicks.
Granted both rosters for each side have changed, as freshman and sophomores have joined each school’s soccer program, and outgoing juniors and seniors have graduated, following the cancellation of the 2020 season due to the novel coronavirus.
More coverage of the Kings’ soccer season will be in this weekend’s issue.